Docs Make 12M Outpatient Diagnostic Errors Every Year


April 22, 2014

As hospitals focus more on quality measures and lowering readmissions, they also look to cut back on diagnostic errors, which occur in about 5% of U.S. adults, accumulating in as many as 12 million outpatient diagnostic errors each year, according to a study published in the BMJ Quality & Safety.

Researchers examined three studies through chart review and found missed opportunities to make a timely and correct diagnosis based on the available evidence. They used the findings from one study to estimate the diagnostic error rate for acute conditions and the results from the other two studies to estimate the rates of missed colorectal and lung cancer diagnosis.

About half of the 5.08% of diagnostic errors could be potentially harmful, lead researcher Hardeep Singh, M.D., chief of the health policy, quality & informatics program at the Center for Innovations in Quality, Effectiveness and Safety, based at the Michael E. DeBakey Veterans Affairs Medical Center in Houston, TX, and an associate professor at Baylor College of Medicine in Houston, concluded.

The research team said the healthcare industry should focus on other areas of care, such as "ambulatory settings, where many types of health conditions or illnesses are often first diagnosed," according to an announcement about the study, which was sponsored in part by the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality.

"Misdiagnosis is clearly a serious problem for the healthcare field," said Singh in the announcement. "This population-based estimate should provide a foundation for policymakers, healthcare organizations and researchers to strengthen efforts to measure and reduce diagnostic errors."

Diagnostic errors are the leading cause of successful medical malpractice claims, and are the most common, most costly and most dangerous of medical mistakes, according to BMJ Quality & Safety, Mi previously reported. Researchers analyzed 350,706 paid claims from the National Practitioner Data Bank from 1986 to 2010 and found diagnostic errors represented 28.6% of the claims and accounted for the highest proportion of total payments—35.2% or $38.8 billion.

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